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Girl eating fruit

Intake of fruits, vegetables lacking in 1- to 5-year-olds: CDC study

February 16, 2023

A new study has found that many young children are not consuming fruits and vegetables daily and drink sugar-sweetened beverages regularly.

One in three children (32%) ages 1-5 years did not eat a daily fruit, 49% didn’t eat a daily vegetable and 57% drank a sugar-sweetened drink at least once in the previous week, according to data from the 2021 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH).

The study by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — published today in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report — looked at survey results on 18,386 children. Parents were asked three questions about children’s frequency of consuming fruits, vegetables and sugar-sweetened drinks during the preceding week. Data were collected from June 2021-January 2022.

Results differed by age, race and ethnicity, as well as household food sufficiency and state.

The youngest children (1-year-olds) were more likely to eat either a daily fruit or vegetable than the older ones, and they were less likely to drink a sugary beverage.

The percentage of children least likely to eat a daily fruit or vegetable was highest among non-Hispanic Black children and lowest among White children. Consumption of a sugary beverage ranged from 47.5% among multiracial non-Hispanic children but was as high as 71.7% among Black children.

Children in households with marginal or low food sufficiency were less likely to eat fruits and vegetables and more likely to have consumed sugary drinks.

Estimates of consumption also varied by state: 16% of children in Vermont did not eat fruit daily compared with about 50% in Louisiana, and 30% of children in Vermont did not eat a daily vegetable compared with 64% in Louisiana. Consumption of a sugar-sweetened beverage was 39% in Maine vs. 79% in Mississippi.

Overall, in 20 states, more than half of children did not eat a vegetable daily during the week that was analyzed. In 40 states and the District of Columbia, more than half of children drank a sugar-sweetened beverage at least once during that week.

The data provide information for decision-makers and practitioners to ensure that young children have an opportunity for their healthiest start, researchers noted.

“Federal nutrition programs and state policies and programs can support improvements in diet quality by increasing access to and availability of fruits and vegetables and healthy beverages in places where young children live, learn, and play,” researchers noted.

The AAP emphasizes the importance of nutritional counseling as part of a whole child approach outlined in the recent Clinical Practice Guideline for the Evaluation and Treatment of Children and Adolescents With Obesity. Bright Futures recommendations include dietary nutrition and physical activity counseling for children and adolescents starting at 2 years.

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